Elmer Bernstein


A film composer famous for his scores to The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape, Elmer Bernstein has also scored light-hearted comedies (Trading Places, Airplane!) and combined jazz with a modern symphonic sound to accompany gritty dramas (The Man with the Golden Arm, Walk on the Wild Side).

Bernstein was born in New York on 4 April 1922 and initially trained as a pianist, in addition to studying composition with CitkowitzSessions, Wolpe, and Ivan Langstroth. After attending New York University, he joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 and composed and arranged music for the Armed Forces Radio Service. He subsequently became a concert pianist before Norman Corwin asked him to write music for radio dramas, a line of work that led him to film-scoring.

Bernstein first came to critical and public attention with his scores to Sudden Fear (1952) and The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), despite suffering from the taints of McCarthyism. His best known work dates from the early 1960s (The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape), but he has continued to score films to the present day (including the 2002 film Far From Heaven), and his current tally stands at more than 130.

Much of Bernstein's music evidences clean-cut , economical orchestration with lively rhythmic ostinatos and an efficient use of thematic material. Some of his themes, including that for To Kill a Mockingbird (1963), have become some of the most memorable in movie history. Bernstein has been active as a representative for screen composers in securing copyright, and has promoted the art of film scoring through his writings. He is also an eminent conductor, mostly of film music.

Related composers: Miklós Rózsa, Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith, Maurice Jarre

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